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Penn State, Franklin Seek Dismissal of Former Player's Lawsuit

by on March 17, 2020 4:04 PM

Attorney for Penn State and football coach James Franklin filed a motion on Monday seeking to dismiss part of a lawsuit filed by a former Nittany Lion player who claimed he was hazed and harassed by other team members and subjected to retaliation by the coaching staff.

Isaiah Humphries filed the federal lawsuit in January alleging that during the spring 2018 semester four teammates led "a campaign to harass and haze lower classmen members of the Penn State football team," including wrestling teammates to the ground and simulate sexual acts, placing their genitals on or near the alleged victims, and making threats such as "I am going to Sandusky you,". The incidents occurred in the Lasch Football Building locker room and showers, campus dorms and other locations, according to the lawsuit.

Humphries claims after making them aware of the incidents, Franklin and the coaching staff "scorned and punished" him and  sought to deprive him of playing time. Humphries left the team following the 2018 season and subsequently enrolled at California.

Franklin and the university, who have denied the allegations, are seeking dismissal of two counts of negligence and one count of negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Humphries' claim of a campaign by upperclassmen to haze younger players as a form of initiation "easily unravels." None of the players he says harassed him were upperclassmen. Two — Jesse Luketa and Micah Parsons, who are not defendants in the suit — enrolled at the same time as Humphries in January 2018. The other two were Yetur Gross-Matos and Damion Barber, who were had just completed their freshman seasons when Humphries arrived on campus. Barber is a defendant in the suit but Gross-Matos is not.

"Humphries and the four teammates he accuses of misconduct were the least senior members of the football team in January 2018," attorney Matthew A. Kairis wrote. "Whatever, if anything, happened between Humphries and these teammates happened among 'lower classmen,' not part of some initiation ritual orchestrated by 'upper classmen' potentially in violation of the Antihazing Law.

"Whatever happened was not hazing, and Humphries’s negligence per se theory is not plausible, defies 'common sense,' and should be rejected."

The motion also states that Humphries provides no evidence that Franklin or the university violated the antihazing law in place at the time of the allegations or the Timothy Piazza Anthihazing Law enacted in late 2018.

"Even if Humphries could allege that he was hazed by upperclassmen as part of a purported initiation rite, he fails to allege any fact to support that the University or Franklin were responsible for such conduct," Kairis wrote.

Humphries does not claim Franklin or the university participated in any of the alleged hazing nor that they intentionally or recklessly promoted the alleged conduct, the filing states.

His claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress should be dismissed, according to the brief, because Humphries does not allege any facts that fit "the narrow circumstances that courts have carved out for such claims."

The university says it conducted an extensive investigation and could not substantiate any allegations of hazing by anyone or any claims of retaliation or negligence by Franklin.

Last spring, Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response received an anonymous complaint of harassment and hazing by football team members. After a formal investigation, Barber was charged with violating the student code of conduct and sanctioned by the Office of Student Conduct, according to the lawsuit.

Humphries' eight-count lawsuit also includes counts of assault and battery, civil conspiracy, and infliction of emotional distress against Barber. Humphries is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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